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This week at the 2018 Virginia General Assembly-Week 4

February 2, 2018 by Jeff Caruso

This week at the 2018 Virginia General Assembly-Week 4

Conference staff worked long early days and late nights this week to lobby to protect religious freedom, ensure low-income pre-school children have the options they need for a quality education, and prevent internet lenders from taking advantage of vulnerable Virginians trying to make ends meet.
We’re just a little under two weeks away from Virginia Vespers: Evening Prayer for the Commonwealth. Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington and Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond invite you to join them and the Conference as we pray with and for legislators and the needs of Virginia. Please join Virginia’s bishops, public officials, fellow Catholics and people of all faiths and both political parties at this annual evening prayer liturgy, held at the mid-point of the legislative session, on Thursday, February 15th at 5pm at Richmond’s historic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. A wine and appetizers reception follows.  Sign up here.
Here’s a look at how our issues fared this week:
Pro-life victories: By the narrowest of margins, members of  the 2018 General Assembly have voted to hold on to the pro-life protections that are on the books in Virginia. Late last Friday – after the weekly summary was distributed and a day after the  Senate Education and Health Committee narrowly defeated along party lines legislation that would have rolled-back pro-life gains – several House bills eliminating informed consent protections and safety regulations (HB 1231, Boysko; HB 1037, Convirs-Fowler; HB 450, Rodman) also were narrowly defeated in a House Courts of Justice subcommittee by a 4-3 vote. HB 1231 would have also asserted that a woman has a “fundamental right” to abortion. Additionally, a bill (HB 298, Watts) that would have expanded the definition of birth control to include abortifacients was defeated by a 4-3 vote. 
Threats to religious liberty: Late Thursday night, the Conference and other pro-life organizations testified against a bill that would have required health plans to cover contraceptives, sterilizations and even some abortions. The House Commerce and Labor subcommittee hearing the bill defeated it in a 5-3 vote. Earlier in the week, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee also voted 12-1 to take no action this year on a Conference-opposed bill (SB 907, McClellan) that would have required health plans to cover contraceptives and sterilizations.
Assistance for low-income pre-K students: In a 28-12 vote earlier this week, the Senate passed Conference-supported legislation (SB 172, Stanley) that would make low-income pre-K students eligible for the Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits program.  In a 4-3 vote (vote link not yet available), a House Finance subcommittee approved a similar bill. Thousands of Virginia students receive the financial assistance they need to attend Catholic and other nonpublic K-12 schools through this vital scholarship funding program. If enacted, these bills would help more low-income children receive a pre-K education, especially in areas where no public options are currently available.
Shielding vulnerable Virginians from usury: The Conference testified on behalf of two bills (SB 624 and SB 625, Surovell) to close loopholes in current Virginia lending law that harm the poor. SB 624, which failed in Senate Commerce and Labor in an 8–5 vote, would have ensured that open-end credit loan regulations apply to those contracted over the internet. SB 625 would extend the 36% APR interest rate cap to consumer loans. It passed out of the same committee in a 12–2 vote. The full Senate is expected to vote on SB 625 next week.
Protecting Virginia’s coastline: The Conference supports the Alternative Energy and Coastal Protection Act, which would protect Virginia’s coast from steadily rising tides, invest in energy efficiency programs and provide critical economic development in Southwest Virginia through funds raised by joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. HB 1273 (Del. Bulova) failed 4–6 in a House Commerce and Labor subcommittee, thus ending the Coastal Protection Act’s prospects for the year.